Labyrinth

By Katrina Bland

There is an underground railroad in Edinburgh that closed when I was a child. Some of my first memories were on one of those trains traveling beneath the city. You could go from one end of Edinburgh to the other, cover every square foot of space in a train or you could walk along side the trains and cover that space by foot. The only people who did that though were children, the children that lived there. You could look out your window and see them; lurking in the artificial shadows cast by bright, buzzing white lights. On the playground we traded stories about these kids, just like us only some of them spent their entire lives without ever having seen the sky. They were like the She in old Irish legends; waiting to reach up and drag us down, never to leave again. At times, someone would miss their train and think they could walk to the next stop. They always got lost. At that point they had to trust the children that found them below the city, to show them the way out. Sometimes people did come out. Sometimes they brought someone with them.

I remember the first time I ever saw him. It was the middle of November when I was in the sixth grade. He wore only new clothes for months and I remember thinking that I had never seen anyone so clean in my life. I never would have guessed that he used to live underneath the sidewalks and floors that were beneath my feet. He was so quiet, I wouldn't have noticed him if it wasn't for his big, dark blue eyes that looked like the ocean in the summer. I spoke to him during his first few weeks at my school but I fell to the sidelines when he, after a year of silence, awoke and became a constantly sunny, popular person. We didn't speak until we were assigned a history project on the Second World War in the ninth grade. It was a bit awkward at first, I think he knew I was the only one besides him who remembered what he was like before he changed, and it seemed as though he wishes he himself couldn't remember that far back. He suggested we go to his house after school to research the project and consequentially we met at the front of the school and set of together. Soon we were laughing and talking, there had been a reason we had gotten along so well, and even if that was years ago it was still there. It was a short walk until we came to one of the entrances to the old subway station. It had been shutdown three years ago. They claimed too many people got lost, that it was dangerous and too complicated. They were right. That is why when he started down the steps into the darkness below our feet I didn't follow him. He said 'Come on, I know a shortcut.', and when I looked like I was scared, he took my hand and I followed. It wasn't as dark as you would expect it to be, the emergency lights were still on, at least in the corridors we walked along. He never led me into the shadows. After a few minutes of silence I began to question him. I asked if he knew the stories about the railroad, how he knew where to go and I asked myself why I trusted him so much to let him lead me through the subway system, the one place I had been told never to enter unless I was actually on a subway. He answered that he knew every story off by heart and nothing I could tell him about the world beneath my own could possibly surprise him. He said he had left the underground railroad once, for good and he would never forget the stairs that took him up into the light for the first time. By now I realized I was in company with one of the children of the subway, and though I had been told to shy away from them my entire life, it only made me trust him more because it meant he was one of the few people in the world who could navigate their way through the labyrinth that was the subway system. I was about to ask him more about the railroad when a girl stepped out of a shadow, just in front of us. There was nothing for her to have been hiding behind so I wondered if there had been other kids like her watching us walk by. He didn't seem surprised to see her though and addressed her by name. She spoke harshly to him, asking him in such a disgusted tone how life above her was, if he was happy now that he had left and found some other girl whose hand to hold. He just kept on walking, and though I had forgotten that we were even holding hands, he continued to hold on tight. I couldn't drag my eyes away from her; she was so beautiful even beneath her tattered clothes and the grime that coated her skin. But her beauty was mangled by the angry, bitter expression on her face and the words that came from her mouth. Words yelled at me, and at him. He whispered to me that it was okay, to come on we were almost there and when I looked back she had stepped back into the shadows. I waited until we had climbed the stairs up into the open air before speaking again but before I could he explained to me that the girl had been his friend when he had lived below the city that they had taken care of each other until a lost man asked them for help. She had wanted to trick him, why did the man deserve to live in the world up above instead of her but he showed the man out anyways and on the way he befriended the man, who asked the little boy who had helped him, the little boy who was now standing in front of me as a teenager, to come live with him. And so he turned his back on the underground of Edinburgh, to find that the sky was blue, not red like he had imagined.

In the end we failed that project on the Second World War because we forgot about it completely, instead spending that afternoon deep in conversation. That was the first full day I spent with your dad and the last one will be the day I die.

Did You Know

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